Digital leader Hotstar to get on-ground at T20 World Cup

With the digital content and OTT platforms space in India hissing-spitting furiously, Hotstar, the undisputed market leader at this point in time on three critical counts — adoption, growth plans and valuation by industry — has upped the ante. It’s gone ahead and extended its partnership with the ICC World Twenty20 2016 which begins in India on Tuesday, the 8th of March 2016. This will give Hotstar on-ground visibility in 8 cities across the 23-match schedule, but more important, through the live telecast on the Star Sports network and the news channels that will borrow the footage, to millions of TV households across India –  a country where only one thing can supersede the passion for Bollywood movies – the religion of Cricket.

Image--hotstar-t20-2016-india-mediabriefRemember – Hotstar also holds the exclusive digital rights to LIVE broadcast of the ICC World Twenty20 2016. So while it will engage with all the younger, digitally mobile and charged cricket fans in India, it will close the loop for market expansion with high on-ground visibility for the platform at all venues throughout the month-long tournament. We’re talking the cities of Bengaluru, Chennai, Dharamsala, Kolkata, Mohali, Mumbai, Nagpur and New Delhi.  As David Richardson, ICC Chief Executive, put it, “Through the media rights partnership, Star India reaches out to a global television audience, which is further expanded via its digital platform, Hotstar. With the extension of the relationship to include sponsorship, Hotstar will now have the opportunity to engage and interact with the in-stadia cricket enthusiasts.”

We are reinforcing our commitment to our users and delivering on the promise that whenever there is cricket, Hotstar is the place to follow the game: Ajit Mohan

Ajit Mohan

On why Hotstar has decided to strengthen its support of cricket and the relationship with the ICC as a global partner of the ICC World Twenty20 India 2016, Ajit Mohan, President & Head, Hotstar, said, “With the sponsorship, we are reinforcing our commitment to our users and delivering on the promise that whenever there is cricket, Hotstar is the place to follow the game. Continuing on our efforts over the last one year, we are focused on creating a delightful proposition for cricket fans.” And as the momentum builds ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 2016, Hotstar plans to launch a series of campaigns to drive anticipation among cricket lovers for the eagerly awaited event. The Asia Cup win has only whetted the collective appetite for good strong and intense Twenty20 contests, and the cricket-crazy fans will lap up everything that comes their way. So Cricket on the go on Hotstar? For sure!

A boost for 4G service providers:

This announcement couldn’t have come at a better time for the 4G providers looking to drive signups and consumption – Hotstar’s on-ground visibility at every match will be amplified no end on television through the entire Star Sports network, DD for India matches, and every news channel and publication in India and worldwide through reportage incorporating video and stills. And that gives the ISPs the mother of all content propositions to drive signups and enhanced data consumption with the most popular format of cricket through Hotstar.

It will also queer the pitch of the other platforms jostling about to be seen, heard and accepted in the already crowding digital content platforms / OTT marketplace.

Hotstar is already the fastest grown digital content platform not just in India but worldwide, with reportedly over 40 million downloads within just a year of launch and, thanks to a lot of big-ticket events, sports, movies and interesting news-comedy- and movies-driven original programming plus a massive catch-up TV library made more attractive through engaging curating of content.

Strong valuation

Hotstar’s remarkable deliveries on proof of concept and acceptance across consumers and business in just about a year of its launch have helped it get valued by Edelweiss at a massive 10,245 crore INR, making it #3 among all the listed media & entertainment companies, behind just Zee Entertainment and Sun TV Network at #1 and 2 respectively, and ahead of far older entities like Dish TV, TV 18 Broadcast, DB Corp, Jagran Prakashan, PVR, ENT Network Ltd, Hathway Cable, SITI Cable, INOX Leisure, Hindustan Media, Eros International, TV Today Network and HT Media. (Of course, the entire STAR Network, valued at 91,6050 cr INR, far ahead of the #1 Listed entity Zee Entertainment valued ad 39973.88 crore INR, but that’s another story.)

The investment into the associate sponsorship of the world’s most popular ICC Cricket contest underlines the parent’s belief in Hotstar, and also how investment-heavy the Digital Content platform space is to survive, sustain and grow.

Just catch-up TV won’t work

Image-hotstar-logo-in-hotstar-t20-2016-india-mediabriefIn the process of showing the industry how a Digital content platform should be launched, sustained and grown, Hotstar has actually helped create the category amongst consumers and business, and given it respect, inspiring others, sitting at the edge with only their feet in the water,  to venture to walk in.

However, those hoping to catch up with Hotstar with just catch-up TV and catch-up movies and the odd original show, or with four or five TV-type video shows and a bit of print-style reading features, however engrossing, will obviously want for sticky content, and will run out of the kind of financial breath it will take to sustain and remain alive in the next year. I expect most of the digital content platforms — with the exception of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and to a much smaller extent perhaps Voot and Sony LIV — thanks now to some of the sporting content the association with ESPN might bring to it — to either fall by the wayside, or shift gears to idling face-saving mode.

Of course, the Zee network, which too has a warchest of decades of content and a visionary leadership, hasn’t still entered the OTT space, which is strange, beacause Digital is the new frontier of entertainment- and infotainment-content delivery. They’re likely waiting for the category to be ‘created’ and cemented in the consumer mindspace, and that’s something that Hotstar and Netflix, in that order, are doing for them in India. But one is convinced that this is a play ZEEL won’t pass.

Image-netflix-logo-in-hotstar-t20-2016-india-mediabriefNetflix has the content bandwidth, technology, global experience and the financial staying power to navigate the long haul through the resistance its initially high subscription costs will receive from Indian consumers. And that’s not helped any bit  by the fact that it’s described as a data-sucker best used on unlimited Wi-Fi plans only. However, quality and appeal of its content, and the fact that over time it will only grow on both, its International and Indian libraries for its Indian consumers, convince me Netflix is here to stay, fight it out and grow. Very shortly after it launched in India, I used up my free month to binge-watch four seasons of the brilliant Suits, and am now a subscriber of its premium service which provides access to Ultra HD content.

Image-sonyliv-logo-in-hotstar-t20-2016-india-mediabriefSony LIV has been around for quite some time before Hotstar arrived and showed everyone in India how it is done. However, now that ESPN and SPN have come together, some of the sports rights portfolio of MSM will help Sony LIV too be cross promoted, heard and tried. Though I do have my doubts about how big a magnet the UEFA Euro 2016, top European football leagues  including La Liga, The FA Cup and Serie A, the NBA, the NFL, the IRB Rugby World Cup, UFC, TNA Wrestling, NASCAR and more. But these pale when compared to the best of ICC Cricket, which Hotstar will have access to for at least the next 8 years, if one isn’t mistaken. While the IPL will air on MSM channels and has always been a big TV property for MSM, remember, Hotstar’s  already bought out the IPL digital rights last year, and will use them to its full advantage this year and the next too. Yes, there’s the formidable MSM drama and other TV library over two decades, but then that’s still only -up tv. And Sony LIV needs to crack two essentials first: the curating and its user interface – both tough asks, but for an entity backed by a world class technology giant, should get done. Which, of course, will take us back to the small issue of big content.

Image-Voot-logo-in-hotstar-t20-2016-india-mediabriefAs for Voot, one has to wait and watch how it rolls out. With the backing of Viacom 18 and access to all its channels’ television content, it will says it will focus on original content in a big way. Whether it is a big enough way on quality and quantity will decide how well Voot takes off and sustains itself.

So, coming back to the peg that prompted this piece: with Hotstar, which owns the digital rights to the ICC Twenty20 WC 2016 and now is also an associate sponsor with immense on-ground and on-air presence and awareness, for now, it will now definitely be seen, heard of, downloaded and experienced even more than it has already been.

I expect Hotstar to do what Sony Entertainment Television did to really launch itself 20-and-a-half years ago — Sony had used the eagerly awaited live concert, Lata Live Queen in Concert, to cross promote just two fiction shows, Aahat and Kaash, way back in the winter of 1995 and emerged triumphant with Aahat seizing the national imagination. That’s the formula Colors too copied with Khatron Ke Khiladi getting the eyeballs and cross promoting the brilliant Balika Badhu, and I expect Hotstar will cross promote some of its other upcoming content during the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2016, and take things up several notches.

So while one dislikes clichés and platitudes — and this one’s both – I’m tempted to conclude with what Holmes often said to Watson – “The game is afoot!”.  And to borrow another that Ravi Shastri’s always flogging in his patent pompous, growled-hissed ultra dramatic ‘style’:  “It’s all happening out there!”

Your thoughts, please